Nelson appeared precisely as one might expect – braided and dressed in black – and entirely unassuming of the warm applause that greeted him.
It was once said that if America could sing with just one voice, it would sound like Willie Nelson’s.
So, it was quite an experience to witness such an iconic figure of modern music take the stage on Sunday night at Pechanga Resort & Casino.
Nelson appeared precisely as one might expect – braided and dressed in black – and entirely unassuming of the warm applause that greeted him. There was no fanfare, no grand entrance – even the house lights were still up – he simply walked on and got down to the business of making music.
Strapping on his old guitar, so weathered and worn that a gaping hole was clearly visible, Nelson opened with “Whiskey River” and the packed house quickly settled in for an evening of the singer’s biggest and most beloved hits, delivered one after the other.
Most notable were his ballads. “Crazy,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” and “You Were Always on My Mind” were each exquisite, with Nelson’s rich, familiar vocals striking emotional chords in the crowd as he plucked and strummed through the songs.
Upbeat tunes like “On the Road Again,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and “Shoeshine Man,” got the audience hopping – cheering, clapping and singing along.
A special treat for jazz fans was Nelson’s instrumental treatment of “Clouds,” a song adapted from “Nuages” and performed by the Manhattan Transfer.
Billed as Willie Nelson and Family, the show included Nelson’s sister Bobbie on the piano and his son Lukas on electric guitar, who traded riffs and matched vocals on such songs as “Texas Flood” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
Lukas, who opened the show with a five-song set along with his band Promise of the Real, proved a true and intriguing talent, delivering a mesmerizing bluesy performance that embraced the heart of country, and the soulful side of rock and roll. And while his vocals would sometimes stretch into his father’s familiar sound, Lukas enchanted with a Morrison-inspired stage presence that eventually brought some in the audience to its feet.
Nelson was generous – repeatedly tossing off red bandanas to the crowd and remaining on stage at the end of the concert to shake hands, sign autographs, and accept gifts from fans.
In all it was a show that was completely void of the slick and glitzy polish of vaulted stage performances. Instead, it was a good old-fashioned jam session, about as real and authentic as they come. No glamour, just a legend dusting off his old guitar and bringing down the house.
To learn more about upcoming shows, visit www.pechanga.com.
Kerri S. Mabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. Follow me on Twitter at SWRNNaelife.